So I’d like to talk to you today about smear tests…
I don’t think these tests are talked about enough – in school, in adult life, just in general – and they certainly don’t seem to be taken seriously enough.
I don’t really remember the first time I heard about smear tests… I know I was at a reasonably young age, and it’s been a bit of a big thing in my family after my mum had borderline cancerous cysts on her ovaries which resulted in a full hysterectomy, back in about 2001, I think it was. So, despite cervical cancer being different from ovarian cancer, that area of the anatomy has been openly talked about within my family, ever since!
I therefore started asking for a smear test from the age of 18, with the promise from the doctors that, due to my mum’s medical history, I would in fact be called up earlier than at age 25. However, this never happened! Surprise, surprise!
Along comes October 2014 – 2 months before my 25th birthday – and I FINALLY receive a letter from the doctors, calling me in for a smear test. Despite the fact that my mum has spoken to me about this test, I am completely and utterly panicking about having it done! To the point that I’m considering not going in at all. But my mum insisted, and I knew it needed to be done; so off I popped, mum in tow!
So I go off to the doctors for my test, and honestly, it’s probably the most uncomfortable and ever-so-slightly painful plus extremely awkward thing I’ve ever done! And let’s just say – it’s completely unnecessary for me to have “friends” that make my life uncomfortable, painful or awkward… I do a good job of that on my own! Anyway, I have the test done, and off I pop back to my mum-and-dad’s, feeling a little sorry for myself, with a sore hooha and my brother asking what it’s like before he immediately regrets the question and walks out!
Several weeks later however, I receive a phone call from the doctors telling me that I need to come back in for my results. This is where my panic and anxiety kicks in! You never get asked to go back to the doctors for your results unless they are bad… right?
She (the doctor) sits me down and tells me that my results were “inadequate”. Now, just to explain – an “inadequate” result means that they need to undertake another test because the first one couldn’t be read properly. This can be due to not enough cells being collected, an infection being present, etc. So, I get referred to the hospital to have a colposcopy, which is an examination using a special microscope to look at your cervix. It’s very similar to a smear test – with the same level of discomfort and awkwardness – but this time, they can identify the extent of the “abnormal cells” (if you have any). Turned out the nurse undertaking my colposcopy could see that I had a lot of abnormal cells and she made the decision to take a biopsy, so that it could be tested.
Few more weeks go by and I find out that I do, in fact, have “abnormal” cells, which means one of two things –
- You have borderline or low-grade dyskaryosis
- You have moderate or severe high-grade dyskaryosis
I was told I have moderate or severe high-grade dyskaryosis, which means I have abnormal cell changes and, if they’re not treated, they may develop into cervical cancer. Great!
At this point, I’m freaking out. I’m crying in the car on my way home with my mum. She’s telling me not to panic. I seriously freaked out! I got back to my parent’s home and told my dad and my brother the results, and they went white as a sheet. It probably didn’t help that I’d gotten myself into such a state, but they were gutted and panicking.
Next, I went back to the hospital to have some treatment to remove the abnormal cells. I won’t go into all of the different types of treatments you can have done, but the one I had was called LLETZ (Large Loop Excision of the Transformation Zone). They remove the abnormal cells using a thin wire loop that’s heated with an electric current. It is done while you’re awake, and a local anaesthetic is injected into your cervix to numb it during treatment.
I have to be honest – that local anaesthetic was the bit that hurt the most! My goodness; was I in pain at that point! In fact, just thinking about it is making me squirm!
So, here I am with my legs in stirrups, my hooha out for all the room to see, and it’s not just one nurse like it has been before. This time, I have two nurses, a trainee nurse AND a male consultant WHO had undertaken my mum’s hysterectomy, not 17 years earlier! I’m panicking, I’m sweating, I’m crying, the nurses are cooing me, my mum is getting upset because I’m upset, and the consultant is shouting at me to calm the f*** down, so that he can get in, do the procedure, and get out. I’ve never known anything like it!
“No sex for 4 weeks”… no problem there! SINGLE!
“No exercising (including swimming) for at least 2 weeks”… Yessss! Fantastic!
Now, before we left the hospital, my mum decided to ask the consultant whether the treatment would affect my chances of having kids in the future. I was not prepared for that question, nor did I want to hear the answer, but I had no choice. The treatment would not directly affect my chances of having kids, although it could reduce my chances; the more treatments I have, the less chance I have of being able to conceive.
I cry all the way home! I’m absolutely heartbroken.
I go back to my parent’s and climb into the spare bed because I’m totally exhausted. I can hear my brother pacing around downstairs, talking to my dad. They’re panicking, they’re upset. At this point, I’ve fully convinced myself that the treatment isn’t going to work and I’m literally prepared for the worst – that I have cervical cancer and that I’m not going to be able to have kids. I don’t even know how I got myself to that point. I think it was sheer panic and anxiety. I’ve had a lot of bad luck with my health, even whilst my mum was pregnant with me; it’s not been easy. So, I was pretty certain my luck wasn’t going to change now!
6 months later, I go back to the hospital for a follow-up smear to see if the treatment has worked. I’ve spent the last 6 months, slowly but surely getting more and more stressed out and depressed about the fact that I could be sick. My parents are rallying around me, my brother has been my rock, my friends have given amazing support. I’d have struggled so much more without them!
Luckily, this time it’s just one nurse checking out my cervix, and she’s like a ray of sunshine. “You still have a few of the abnormal cells in there, Steph, but I’m not concerned about them; we got most of it out, and you’re good to go. We’ll see you in 3 years for your next smear!”
I was absolutely over-the-moon. I cried all the way home; the relief was overwhelming.
We get back to my parent’s; I tell my dad and my brother the good news. Up until this point, I’d known they’d worried but I hadn’t realised how much. Seeing the relief on their faces and feeling how tightly they hugged me with happiness really showed me just how much they’d worried. They’d thought that it wasn’t going to work out as well.
I must point out that, up until this point, my mum hadn’t said much on the matter. She’s the kind of person that tends to bottle things up and ignore them; then, when it happens (or doesn’t happen), she loses her mind. She cries, shouts, gets angry and upset; it’s almost like she’s just finding out this information for the first time. And I think that it’s also her defence mechanism kicking in, shielding her from the bad news that might come but also might not.
Just as we’re all hugging and happy and about to go out to the pub in celebration, my mum bursts into tears. The realisation that I could have been sick has just hit her like a ton of bricks, and it’s horrible to watch. She’s both relieved and heartbroken at the same time about how much this could have affected my life and the people around me.
I had a friend from work go through the exact same thing, a few months later. She became shut off from us at work and very quiet. I managed to get it out of her, one day – what was going on – and just seeing her face when she realized that this condition was, in fact, more common that she thought was amazing. She went home feeling miles better, that day, knowing that she wasn’t alone.
You can go through stages of feeling like you’re the only person going through this and no one else can possibly know how you feel. It can be very isolating. But you should remember that you aren’t alone. There are so many of us that have been through this, so many people you can talk to and share stories with. Don’t shut yourself off from the world!
Despite my rather depressing and sad story, I am so thankful that I went for that first smear test. Had I not, the abnormal cells could have turned into cervical cancer over time, and (if I never went for a smear test) I might not have known about things until it was too late.
Don’t EVER miss a smear test! They are so unbelievably important. I can’t possibly stress how important, but it’s a lot!
My story isn’t here to frighten anyone away from getting their test done, and I really hope it doesn’t do that for you (please send me an email if it does). I wanted to share my story with you to show you that my life could have been much different today if I’d made the decision to not go for that first smear test.
As awkward as it is for someone to be having a good gander up your hooha and as uncomfortable as it is, it’s just 5 minutes out of your day, every 3–5 years! If you’ve read this and you’ve missed a test… go book one, right now! If you’re approaching 25 and you’re going to be due one soon, please don’t miss it!
Thank you for reading my story. If anyone has any questions or wants to get more information, you can use the NHS website, or leave me a comment / send me an email. I’ll help out where I can.